By Gail Collins
Our topic today is gun regulation. Come on, stop beating your head against the backyard grill. That thing’s hot.
Americans are really in need of some good news. This time of year, we have to live with a deluge of terrible stories about mass shootings, snuffing out the lives of people who were just going about their business when some guy (OK, almost universally a guy) comes by and starts firing into the crowd.
For instance, last week a man wearing body armor and a ski mask walked down a street in Philadelphia, randomly blasting an assault-style rifle, killing five people.
The alleged shooter, 40-year-old Kimbrady Carriker, had — you may not be surprised by this — a history of acting out and mental disorders. And, of course, multiple guns.
We can’t possibly keep constant watch on all the disturbed people in our country. But you really would think we’d do a better job of keeping them from being armed.
The police believe Carriker’s weapons included what we now call a “ghost gun” — we’ve got a nickname for the little devils. You can build them with kits that are sold online. Which makes it, certainly, much easier to arm yourself without any authorities noticing. “Yesterday’s gun show is today’s online sale,” John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety told me.
It’s not as if this is an area in need of more expansive consumer service. Last year, Everytown took a count and found there were nearly 78,000 licensed gun dealers in the country. Which, the organization noted, amounts to “more than all the McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Wendy’s locations combined.”
This doesn’t include, of course, the very large number of people who buy and sell guns without bothering to get licenses. Or performing the theoretically required background check.
On the cheery side, proponents of sane rules about weaponry will remind you of the huge victory last summer, when Congress passed a bipartisan bill increasing funds for gun-safety programs and tightening a loophole in the law barring spouses with a history of violent behavior from getting guns. Now a similar rule applies to live-in partners who aren’t married.
Yeah, that’s about it — and I swear to you they had to work like heck to get it through.
Enter the Supreme Court. The justices have decided that later this year, they’ll take up what’s known as the Rahimi case. Zackey Rahimi, a Texas drug dealer with a spectacular history of bad behavior, had been accused of assaulting his former girlfriend and was under court order to leave her alone. He was exactly the sort of person Congress was thinking of when members passed that law prohibiting people subject to domestic violence protection orders from possessing guns.
But Rahimi — taking time out from a vigorous at-liberty life in which he opened fire in public five times over two months — appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals took his side, genuflecting to the Second Amendment and ruling that stopping folks like Rahimi from owning guns was unconstitutional.
The appeals court did note that he was “hardly a model citizen.” Who says they’re ignoring the real world?
Next stop, the Supremes, who haven’t been too sympathetic to gun-safety laws lately. Last year, the majority ruled that New York couldn’t limit the types of people allowed to carry a concealed weapon around town. The New York philosophy had been that keeping a weapon for defense in your home is one thing and wearing one outside is another. But the justices apparently felt that if you don’t like the idea of hundreds of folks strolling around your neighborhood packing heat, you should … stay inside a lot.
What do you think they’ll do about Rahimi? Agree with the lower court that the founding fathers would have let him keep the gun? Make another scary ruling that will give Clarence Thomas a chance to add his own interpretation that’s even scarier? Or take the opportunity to calm the worried public with a We’re Weird But Not Crazy message?
No reason to be optimistic. But on a happier note, a lot of states have been passing or working on passing or thinking about passing major gun reforms. Ten now largely ban assault weapons, those astonishing pieces of armament that work pretty much like easy-to-handle machine guns. (In Washington, Joe Biden has been pushing hard for a federal ban.)
There’s also talk in the Senate about passing a safe-storage law that would basically require people with little kids to keep their loaded guns in a place where the children can’t reach them. I know, doesn’t seem like a big lift, but you’re still talking about defying the wishes of the gun lobby.
“It’s an uphill battle,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “This debate has become so polarized, everything is uphill.”
Still, we’re talking progress! Except … wait. While many states seem to be trying to move toward more gun safety, others seem to be going the other way. Guess where citizens just got permission to carry concealed guns without a permit?
A) Florida B) Florida C) Florida
Most Americans — a recent Pew survey says 58 percent — think we ought to have stricter gun laws. About two-thirds favor banning super-killer weapons like assault-style rifles. And 88 percent favor preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.
We will stop here, pour a drink and contemplate the 12 percent who aren’t sure it’s a bad idea to let mentally ill people buy guns.
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Gail Collins is an Opinion columnist, is a former member of the editorial board and was the first woman to serve as the Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007. @GailCollins • Facebook
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